Ties between France the the UK are tense after the UK blamed France for the drowning deaths of 27 people in the Channel | Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Ties between France the the UK are tense after the UK blamed France for the drowning deaths of 27 people in the Channel | Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told his British counterpart Priti Patel that she was "no longer welcome" at weekend talks. This follows Boris Johnson's decision to publish a critical letter to Emmanuel Macron.

France on Friday told British Home Secretary Priti Patel that she was no longer invited to a meeting of interior ministers on Sunday, after at least 27 people died when a migrant boat capsized in the English Channel

In a message seen by French media, including news agency AFP, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told his counterpart that a letter from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to President Emmanuel Macron was a "disappointment."

The worst loss of life of its kind in the English Channel has led to the two countries trading blame in their public communications and statements

Less than 24 hours after Macron's Elysee Palace had pointedly urged Johnson not to "politicize" the issue, the British prime minister took the unusual step of publishing the three-page letter in full on social media. He called on France to immediately start taking back all migrants who land in England after crossing the channel, saying this "would significantly reduce — if not stop — the crossings, saving thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs."

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal later confirmed the cancellation in an interview on BFM TV, saying that Sunday's meeting would still go ahead but only with representation from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Commission.

France had called for the multinational meeting because it believes most of the migrants crossing the channel start their journey elsewhere in the EU, after concerted efforts in recent years to close the once-notorious "Jungle" migrant camp in the port city of Calais where people hoping to reach Britain used to congregate.

The vehicle of one of the five suspects arrested since the tragedy was registered in Germany, Darmanin said on Thursday. 

After a reduction in migrant crossings of the world's busiest waterway following the closure of the "Jungle," the numbers have since started to rise again.

Post-Brexit clashes on migration, fishing, trade

Ties between Britain and France have been severely strained in recent years, primarily as a result of the Brexit process. 

The two countries have clashed repeatedly on issues including fishing rights, trade issues and border control.

French fishermen on Friday are expected to stage a blockade of ferry ports on the English Channel and try to stop freight entering the Channel Tunnel in protest at their fishing rights in British waters.

Patel, briefing Britain's House of Commons on Thursday, called the deaths "a dreadful shock," albeit adding "it was not a surprise." She also repeated a suggestion previously rebuffed by France recommending joint patrols on the French coast — which Johnson also spoke of at length in his open letter. 

A British minister said London hoped Paris would reconsider. 

"No nation can tackle this alone and so I hope that the French will reconsider," said British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, in an interview on the BBC on Friday morning

msh/rs (AFP, Reuters) 

First published: November 26, 2021

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